NOTE: Justin Britt was listed as Questionable on the Friday injury report and has been deactivated for the game on Sunday. The Seahawks will likely start Alvin Bailey in his place.
Of the many individual matchups that could determine Sunday's NFC Championship game, perhaps none will be more fun to watch than Packers linebacker Julius Peppers against Seahawks right tackle Justin Britt.
Even at age 34, Peppers remains a dynamic athlete and dangerous pass rusher. His combination of size (6-foot-7, 287 pounds) and speed is rare even at the NFL level, and his football IQ makes him a difficult matchup for any offensive lineman. This season, Peppers successfully converted from a down lineman to edge-rushing linebacker. He'll still put his hand in the dirt from time to time, but for the most part the Packers put him in space.
As for Britt, he survived the gauntlet of starting 17 games and counting at right tackle for one of the best rushing teams in the league. While his play hasn't always looked pretty, Britt has locked down the right side of the line as a rookie. He gave up a team-high five sacks per Pro Football Focus, but has been clean over the Seahawks last three games, a sign that the rookie is maturing into his role.
Though Peppers and Britt won't face off on every play (Green Bay moves its pass rushers around), they'll see a lot of each other on Sunday. Interestingly, their individual strengths and weaknesses seem to have an inverse relationship with one another.
Peppers' greatest asset remains his ability to pressure the quarterback. He led the team in total pressures with 51 (tied with Clay Matthews), again per Pro Football Focus. Part of his success in this area comes from his ability to convert speed to power. Peppers can get to the outside of an offensive tackle then bowl through him to get to the quarterback. This could be a problem for Britt. While his pass protection has improved of late, he's still slow to react to edge rushers like Peppers. When Britt is baited out of position, he doesn't possess the agility to adjust back. Given Peppers' athletic and experience advantages, the rookie tackle could yield a few key hurries and sacks.
But Britt has performed better in the ground game. At 6-foot-6 and 325 pounds, he possesses a strong base to move bodies in the trenches. Britt also bends well, helping him maintain leverage against strong opponents. For a linebacker as long as Peppers, that could be a major problem. The Seahawks will try to run in the B Gap between Britt and right guard J.R. Sweezy, their best run blocker. Peppers will need assistance stopping those runs, a major problem if Josh Boyd is unable to suit up on Sunday.
Still, this matchup favors the Packers. Peppers has shown up in big games, and this one ranks alongside Super Bowl XXXVIII and the 2010 NFC Championship game in terms of significance to his career. If he can turn Britt into a liability in pass protection, the Packers could negate what has been a steadily improving aerial attack.